- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

BAGHDAD — Bombs rocked Baghdad and a U.S. base in northern Iraq yesterday, killing at least 14 Iraqis and wounding dozens of people, including two American soldiers. Militants loyal to a radical Shi’ite cleric clashed with U.S. forces in Baghdad and a Shi’ite city to the south.

The explosions rolled across Baghdad even as a new, post-occupation government for Iraq was announced, with Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer named as president.

In the largest blast, a car bomb exploded outside the offices of the pro-American Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, near the headquarters of the U.S.-run coalition, killing three and wounding 20.

The explosion came just a half hour after some 400 people left a party celebrating the 29th anniversary of the founding of the PUK, whose militia helped to topple Saddam Hussein last year.

Outside the capital, a roadside bomb killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 23 outside a U.S. military base near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Two 1st Infantry Division soldiers were wounded, the military said.

Elsewhere, American troops fought Shi’ite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad and in Kufa, where Shi’ite leaders have been struggling to save a shaky cease-fire.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, militiamen fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers in sporadic clashes. It was not known whether anyone was hurt.

CNN, which has a reporter embedded with U.S. soldiers in Najaf, said the fighting in nearby Kufa began when an American patrol took fire in the southern part of the city. There were no U.S. casualties, CNN said.

The U.S.-appointed governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, said coalition authorities had proposed that Sheik al-Sadr’s militia withdraw from Najaf over a 72-hour period.

In return, American troops would stay away from Shi’ite holy sites in Najaf and Kufa — scene of sharp clashes between U.S. and militia forces since Sheik al-Sadr began an antioccupation uprising in early April.

Ahmad al-Shibani, an official from Sheik al-Sadr’s office in Najaf, said the cleric’s movement is likely to have objections. He said he didn’t know whether the militia would agree to joint Iraqi-U.S. patrols or to give up their arms.

Two Polish contractors and five other employees of a construction company were abducted yesterday near Baghdad, but one of the Poles escaped, a Polish army spokesman said.

The group was abducted from their office and forced into a car before one got away, Polish spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki said. Authorities are searching for the missing people, including three Kurdish security guards and two other staffers whose nationality was not immediately known, he said.

Also yesterday, thousands of Iraqis cheered and threw stones as U.S. Marines pulled out of Khaldiyah, a largely Sunni Muslim area and a center of the anti-American insurgency about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad.

The withdrawal took place under an agreement brokered with local clerics for Iraqi security forces to take over, said Lt. Col. Hammad Shahir Sarhan of the Iraqi forces. U.S. officials have said they will gradually hand over security duties as Iraqis assume control of their country.

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